The Magic of Family: Borders of Infinity and Brothers in Arms

The adventures of Miles Vorkosigan continue as Alex and I look at the novella “Borders of Infinity” and the novel Brothers in Arms. We have discussed Cordelia’s Honor (Shards of Honor and Barrayar), the Young Miles omnibus (The Warrior’s Apprentice and “The Mountains of Mourning” and The Vor Game), and the Miles, Mystery and Mayhem omnibus (Cetaganda, and Ethan of Athos and “Labyrinth”) previously.

“Borders of Infinity” and Brothers in Arms

By Lois McMaster Bujold

ALEX:

“Borders of Infinity” is a curious novella, in that it sets Miles almost completely apart from all of the other characters we’ve come to know and love. Here, he doesn’t have the support of his parents, or Ivan, or a Bothari … it’s just him and his wits. And for much of the story the reader has no idea what is going on, which is also quite different from Bujold’s style in earlier books. No idea why Miles is in the POW camp – was he captured? is this deliberate? – no idea where everyone else is … at least we do have a vague idea why he’s organising the camp: because he can’t help himself. He is an inveterate organiser, schemer, and meddler; he could no more leave the camp disorganised (even without the greater plan that he turns out to have) than a cat could ignore catnip.

TEHANI:

It’s my absolute favourite of the novellas, because it showcases Miles being completely, utterly MILES! All he has are his wits and the insane charisma that makes people follow whatever the heck mad scheme he comes up with. No trappings, no trimmings (not even any clothes!) – just Miles.

ALEX:

That’s exactly it! It is – heh – naked Miles…

I did, of course, really enjoy this story. It was fun to watch Miles build something from nothing, and to see people’s reactions to him when he has absolutely nothing concrete to offer them. And the number of times someone asks, dubiously, “What did you say you were?”, and he replies “A clerk,” only to have them respond with “Yes sir”… brilliant.

TEHANI:

Heh! Best lines 🙂 There was some interesting stuff in here too. These people had been stuck in the dome for three years, succumbing to the machinations of their captors and degenerating into anarchy, but who were the organised ones? The women. They formed their own enclave within the prison, to protect each other – it’s a very telling little message from Bujold I think. I also think the story examines leadership – Miles is a fascinating leader, and has mastered the skill of making the most of the abilities of others, even when he has no idea what they might be!

ALEX:

That the women were the organised ones was an interesting aspect, yes. I think the idea that they would do so for protection makes sense. Other takes on this idea have often seen women essentially becoming part of a harem, in exchange for men’s protection. There was one interesting comment about Tris, the leader of the women – the fact that she was a trooper, not a tech, like most of the other women. Not sure what to make of that; women as soldiers still not accepted on this world?

I was heartbroken at Beatrice’s death. I could so see her joining the Dendarii. Also Murka. Looking forward, I am … not glad, but impressed maybe? respectful certainly of Bujold making sure Miles is haunted by those deaths. It makes him much more real.

TEHANI:

You’re fishing for spoilers! Won’t give. But yes, Beatrice was a sad loss, but I like that Bujold reminds us no-one is safe in her books – we can’t get complacent about characters we love!

ALEX:

Who, me? Fishing?? Beatrice died! … didn’t she?

TEHANI:

Ah, oops! Forgot that Murka was already IN the Dendarii (from “Labyrinth”) for a minute there! Carry on… 🙂

ALEX:

For me, this story reminded me in some ways of the hell described in Iain M Banks’ latest novel, Surface Detail, although Bujold’s is not nearly as unpleasant as Banks’.

TEHANI:

Darn you Alex, you’re always adding to my reading pile!

Brothers in Arms

ALEX:

Lesson #3432 I have learnt from Miles Vorkosigan: don’t joke about having a clone brother. It might just be true.

Miles has an evil twin! HAHAHA! Brilliant.

Brothers in Arms follows directly on from “Borders”, with Cetagandan forces chasing Admiral Naismith to deliver retribution for rescuing so many POWS at Dagoola IV. He ends up on Earth – Earth! – something of a backwater from a commercial point of view, due to its lack of wormhole entrances, but still commanding a cultural and psychological hold over humanity, it appears. Things, naturally, go wrong, mostly because of the plot to replace Miles with his six-years-younger clone twin.

TEHANI:

I like that it takes quite a while for the actual clone story to start here. It gives us time to anticipate the incipient disaster we just know will come! And one of the best bits is when Miles thinks he’s hallucinating, but later realises he really was seeing the clone!!

ALEX:

Yes, I thought that was a nice twist – that he wasn’t going quite as crazy as he thought he was.

On the plot:

Awesome. Nice plot twists with the struggles of the clone. One of the highlights of course is the utter DISASTER of Admiral Naismith and Lieutenant Vorkosigan being on the same planet at the same time – which is what leads to the crazy story of the clone … oops. It didn’t feel like there were that many sub-plots going on in this book as with some of the others; there’s the Miles/Quinn love story, but it’s not like Ivan or Galeni get their own little thread. Also, this wasn’t really a detective story like Cetaganda, nor was it space opera-y Warrior’s Apprentice. It is certainly SF, of course, and it’s a lot of fun knowing that, in reading a Bujold novel, you do not necessarily know what sort of a plot you’re in for, nor what sort of a setting. Very clever, and very attractive.

TEHANI:

Very skilful too. There’s not all that many authors around who can write equally well with a detective plot, a space opera, a romance (just wait), an action adventure and so much more! This one was relatively straightforward I agree, without the twisty turns of some of the other Vorkosigan books, but also important, in the larger scheme, particularly because of Mark, but for other reasons too. No, I’m not telling!

ALEX:

On the characters:
Miles continues to be awesome, natch. He also develops quite a lot of humanity in this novel, I feel, as he has nightmares about Beatrice and Murka dying (from “Borders”), as well as his great quandary over whether to get it on with Quinn or not. He finally seems to be learning a bit more about how to be subordinate – although it sure doesn’t come easily. The effect of having the clone mirror to him his gestures and words and entire personality is a really neat trick to force some self-reflection. In his mid-20s, it finally feels like Miles is almost old enough for his brain, which continues to devise interesting, if somewhat desperate, schemes. I particularly enjoyed the little trap under the Thames barrier – getting everyone to eliminate everyone else while searching for Miles.

TEHANI:

Oh yes, VERY effective. And the business of Beatrice and Murka hanging over him is sobering for him – he’s had people die before, but he’s beginning to understand one of those huge responsibilities of leadership – the introspection of that is quite a settling force, in some ways. I was particularly sad about Murka – we’d already seen him in action in “Labyrinth” and he was a great character! Bujold really subscribed to the “Kill off your darlings” mantra eh? 🙂

ALEX:

Mark, the clone, promises to be a verrrry interesting part of the saga from now on. Bujold does an intriguing thing here with the question of nature/nurture, because while Galen was attempting to re-create Miles, he was doing so in a completely different environment. Let’s not even go into what was necessary to turn Mark physically into Miles – I had hoped that they would have tried introducing the poison into the uterine replicator or something similar, but no… I felt an immense sympathy for Mark, which I am sure was Bujold’s point; he’s just a pawn for everyone, even Miles, it’s no wonder that he has trust issues. I can’t wait to see what Bujold does with him over time. I admit that I had rather expected everything to be tied up, if not neatly then with greater hope than we are left with re: Mark’s position, by the conclusion of the story. Bujold doesn’t exactly make things easy, does she?

TEHANI:

Never! And just you wait til Mirror Dance!

ALEX:

On the other hand … yay Quinn! More Quinn is good! It was fun to see Miles finally having a mostly-normal relationship with a woman (not pining unrequitedly, not getting it on with an 8ft, 16-year-old genetic experiment…), particularly when it’s a woman who most definitely knows her own mind stands up for herself. The bit where she refuses to be Lady Vorkosigan but still wants to jump his bones? Marvellous.

TEHANI:

I like that Quinn doesn’t succumb to Miles here. We know he’s got such a forceful and charismatic personae that it really would have been something he could have talked her into. And, traditionally in stories, the hero gets the girl, right? And he’s already missed out on Elena, so it’s his turn now, right? Which makes it so much cooler that he DOESN’T get the girl! It’s logical, and sensible, and I’m glad that Bujold let it happen this way.

ALEX:

Their relationship makes sense – on her terms, not his.

Ivan … still not that intriguing, I’m afraid. I like him and all, but he’s not come into his own yet. I admit it’s clear that he’s nowhere near as dense as Miles might sometimes think though.

TEHANI:

We definitely are starting to see some sparks of who Ivan really is, when he’s not completely bombarded by Miles. The flashes of innovative thought are hopeful!

ALEX:

For some reason I was thinking about Tom Clancy the other day, and it occurred to me that if Clancy were writing Miles, he would end up being the Emperor. Or at least in Illyan’s job. That would be awesome.

TEHANI:

You’re fishing again!! Interesting train of thought… 🙂 Onwards!!

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